Best external hard drives: 10 top large-capacity drives to boost your storage

Keep your files safe with these USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt hard drives

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With capacities measuring in the terabytes, today's hard drives mean that one drive can now serve all your needs, from backup to storing all those gargantuan video files you've accumulated over the years.

Of course, with increased capacities comes the need for faster drive interfaces. The emergence of both USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt means that you can transfer even the largest files across to these drives without tying up your machine for hours at a time.

And with prices falling across the board, there's never been a better time to beef up your storage capacity.

The problem is, how do you choose which drive to buy? We can help with that: we've rounded up 10 of the very best USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt drives, covering both desktop and portable needs, with a few left-field choices thrown in. But there are some general buying tips that you can bear in mind:

  • If storage capacity is your main priority, a desktop hard drive usually offers more for your money than a portable hard drive.
  • Portable hard drives are, by their nature, more vulnerable to damage. Choosing a drive with a solid, well-made case has more than just aesthetic benefits: it should also protect your valuable data better.
  • If you intend to use your hard drive as a backup device, consider the quality of the included backup software. Some hard drive manufacturers only offer trial packages, while others include far more functional and useful alternatives at no extra cost.
  • Drives with faster USB 3.0, FireWire 800, or eSATA interfaces are only worth investing in
    if your computer comes equipped with a similarly speedy connection.
  • High-capacity drives may initially seem expensive, but work out cheaper in terms of gigabytes-per-pound.

Whatever your needs, we've got a drive for you. Read on to find your perfect storage partner.

1. Toshiba Stor.E Canvio 1.5TB

£99, AU$170, US$160

Best external hard drives: 10 top large-capacity drives for boosting your storage
A solid and dependable drive

If you're looking for a portable drive with plenty of storage, the Toshiba Stor.E Canvio 1.5TB fits the bill nicely, squeezing 1.5TB into its compact, attractive case.

It comes with lots of useful extra software too, including automatic backup, remote access and 10GB of cloud storage for peace of mind. There's also a Mac driver for maximising its performance on Apple machines.

Transfer speeds are typical for portable USB 3.0 drives - around 106MB/s read and write, with good real-word performance too. If you're looking for a solid and dependable drive that packs just that bit more capacity into its small footprint, your search is over.

2. LaCie Blade Runner 4TB

£230, AU$395, US$262

You'll get your money's worth in build quality and potential art work
You'll get your money's worth in build quality and potential art work

The LaCie Blade Runner 4TB is pretty bulky. But clever touches like recessing the USB 3.0 and power sockets on the bottom of the drive help give it a refined look alongside the unique number stamped on its left blade, indicating it's one of just 9,999 units manufactured.

In terms of performance, the drive achieves impressive peak speeds with sequential file reads and writes of nearly 195MB/s, but also holds up well in random read/write tests too.

While there's a hefty premium to pay, you're getting your money's worth in build quality and potential art work.

3. Verbatim GT Portable Hard Drive 1TB

£76, AU$131, US$185

Best external hard drives: 10 top large-capacity drives for boosting your storage
One of the fastest mechanical drives Verbatim has ever produced

This portable drive's go-faster stripe isn't just for show: the Verbatim GT Portable Hard Drive 1TB lives up to Verbatim's claim that it's one of the fastest mechanical drives it's ever produced, with decent 105MB/s sequential read/write speeds, and the ability to transfer a 1.36GB test file in just 20 seconds. It's not the quickest, but at this price you can't complain.

The drive also comes with free backup software and a handy write-protect switch, which may come in useful when connecting the drive to other computers where you're only interested in copying data from it and don't fancy risking your drive to potential malware infection in return.

4. Buffalo DriveStation HD-LBU3 2TB

£65, AU$112, US$105

Best external hard drives: 10 top large-capacity drives for boosting your storage
The Buffalo boasts super-fast performance and energy-saving features that help prevent it from getting too hot

Known as the DriveStation Axis drive in some markets, the USB 3.0 Buffalo DriveStation HD-LBU3 2TB desktop external drive has plenty going for it, not least its super-fast performance when copying large numbers of files at once. This is down to a clever PC Turbo driver that utilises write caching technology to boost performance, but even without this the drive holds its own against other USB 3.0 models.

It's housed in a compact, black case that can be stacked on its side to take up less room, and boasts energy-saving features that help prevent it from getting too hot to the touch.